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As Dantonio recovers from heart attack, Michigan State enters Big Ten play undefeated

With coach Mark Dantonio recovering from a mild heart attack, Michigan State did its best to help him enjoy an stress-free weekend.

There's nothing relaxing, however, about the Spartans' upcoming schedule.

Michigan State beat Northern Colorado 45-7 in Dantonio's absence Saturday, and the Spartans moved up a spot to No. 24 in the AP poll Sunday. They'll face No. 11 Wisconsin next weekend in East Lansing in a matchup of unbeaten teams.

Dantonio's return remains uncertain. He had a heart attack Sept. 19 in the hours after his team beat Notre Dame in overtime. He was released from the hospital Tuesday and even visited practice Friday, but offensive coordinator Don Treadwell took over his coaching duties against Northern Colorado.

"We're always worried about the boss," Treadwell said Sunday. "He was able to watch the game. (His wife) Becky allowed him to do that. I hope there wasn't too much stress."

Michigan State (4-0) wore the letter D on its helmets for Dantonio and gave its recovering coach little to worry about against the Bears (2-2) of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Spartans must now focus on Wisconsin (4-0). Michigan State hasn't started 5-0 since 1999 under Nick Saban.

And if the Spartans beat the Badgers, there will be plenty of hype surrounding Michigan State's visit to Michigan on Oct. 9.

"Every game is hopefully a stepping stone to bigger and better things," running back Edwin Baker said, looking ahead to the Big Ten schedule.

"We need to do everything well against those guys — run the ball, pass the ball, everything."

Michigan State ran for 201 yards against Northern Colorado and has surpassed 200 in every game this season, and quarterback Kirk Cousins looked sharp against the Bears. He went 16 of 20 for 290 yards and two touchdowns before coming out before his team's first possession of the fourth quarter.

Linebacker Greg Jones made the first two interceptions of his career, and Le'Veon Bell ran for 92 yards and three touchdowns for the Spartans. The did it all without Dantonio on the sideline, although his visit last week helped settle the team down.

"It meant a lot," Baker said. "It was great to see the life in his eyes, knowing that he's doing well. I think it was a big part of our win (Saturday). I know it made us feel good when we went up 21-0 to know he's at home watching and feeling good and not having to worry about us."

There isn't much clarity about when he might return to the sideline, though.

"It's still going to be day-to-day," Treadwell said.

Northern Colorado was hoping for an upset like the one James Madison of the FCS pulled off against Virginia Tech earlier this month.

"We talked to our kids all week about playing like champions," Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "We gave them a list of schools that either got beat by (FCS) teams and schools that kicked the tails out of them. The score was evident as far as what we did."

Penalties were probably Michigan State's biggest problem. The Spartans were flagged 11 times for 121 yards, something that will be harder to overcome once they start Big Ten play.

"We played a lot of second-team guys out there," Narduzzi said. "(Defensive back) Darqueze Dennard had two penalties, which I am glad he had them this week as opposed to maybe next week."